Godfrey: It’s an American attitude

Elaine Godfrey

Gun control is a topic that’s been debated, hashed, and re-hashed since the morning of Dec. 14, 2012. Most liberals are arguing for laws making automatic and semi-automatic weapons illegal across the board — and avid defenders of the Second Amendment are arguing for the opposite: Let’s arm our teachers, they say, and our principals and lunch ladies; according to the NRA, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.”

Still more claim that guns should be made pink — a feminine fuchsia, preventing manly men from purchasing weapons out of sheer embarrassment.

But throughout the heated commentary, the tears, and the steady stream of insult-throwing, one question remains unaddressed.

Why do guns mean so much to us? The answer comes down to attitude — and America’s ruthless quest for independence.

One of the main arguments for gun ownership is that weapons protect everyday Americans from the gun-wielding criminals in society. This means that guns are meant to remedy police and government failure, enabling individuals to protect themselves when law enforcement fails — or perhaps their purpose lies in preventing government oppression. This distrust in both authority and the institution of government is characteristically American.

Americans have always harbored serious reservations when it comes to power. According to Bernard Bailyn’s award-winning book “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution,” “as great a blessing as government is … it may become a scourge, a curse, and severe punishment to a people.” This “scourge” would be the result of corruption — the susceptibility of mankind to the promise of increased power.

We are distrustful of those in command, and history shows that, to some extent, we always have been. Gun ownership is clearly linked with a lack of confidence in government, but I would say that this distrust actually makes our country a more dangerous place to live.

The Small Arms Survey, based in Geneva, Switzerland noted that of the 28 countries it surveyed for a 2011 civilian firearm report, only the United States and Yemen considered firearm ownership a basic right, and of all industrialized nations in the survey, the U.S. has the largest rate of firearm-related death: 10.2 deaths for every 100,000 people. The next closest rate is Finland, with a rate of 4.7 deaths for every 100,000 people — less than half the rate of the U.S.

In America, many take the desire for ‘freedom’ in its most absolute sense: the notion that we can do what we want, when we want. But regardless of whether you think the Second Amendment gives every American the automatic right to own an assault weapon, the idea that guns make our country safer doesn’t make much sense.

The argument Americans make in advocating for the fulfillment of society’s gun need is that we will all be safer once individual citizens are armed against criminals. The theory is that if your enemy gets a weapon, you do, too.

But if the whole gun-for-gun concept worked, with almost 300 million civilian guns in circulation, wouldn’t America be safer? Instead, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, the murder rate is nearly 15 times higher in the U.S. than that of the U.K., Canada, Australia, and India, just to name a few.

While not daring to compare the impact of a bullet to that of a mushroom cloud of destruction, this idea is similar to a nuclear arms race. Once one nation develops a nuclear weapon, other countries will fearfully do the same, and instead of creating a safer planet, the threat of annihilation will loom immeasurably larger, escalating into widespread panic and chaos.

Countries with strong faith in the effectiveness of their governments and judicial systems seem to be far less affected by gun violence. Take Scandinavians, for example, who, in general, tend to possess a very different, more trust-thy-neighbor attitude. The rate of gun violence in these countries is significantly lower; in fact, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, for every one person killed in Sweden from a gun-related crime, there are 10 deaths in the United States.

Our mistrust in government, and our apparent devotion to some historic obligation to be suspicious of law and regulation seems to actually be making our country a more dangerous place to live.

Elaine Godfrey is a sophomore in journalism and mass communication and global resource systems from Burlington, Iowa.